Round Trip Distance: 3.5 miles
Elevation: 4675 - 4883 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Lower Monument Canyon
Attractions: Solitude, wildlife, wildflowers, scenic views
View Lizard Canyon in a larger map
Lizard Canyon is located in the Colorado National Monument. It is the small canyon that is tucked away between Fruita Canyon, on the west, and Wedding Canyon, on the east. An old unpaved road cut across the base of the canyon many years ago. The road and the mouth of the canyon are hidden from view by a sandstone ridge that forms the last rocky outcrop of the northern edge of the Monument. The Lizard Canyon trail, while being well traveled, is primitive and is not an official trail of the Colorado National Monument.
The hike begins from the Lower Monument Canyon trailhead just off Highway 340. This trailhead is the main departure point for hikes into Monument Canyon and to Independence Monument as well as to Wedding Canyon. There have been vehicles broke into at this trailhead including one of my own. While this is a rare event it is best to exercise caution and not leave any valuables inside.
Follow the Monument Canyon trail as it leaves the trailhead and begins turning southward. Look for a small cairn that marks the beginning of the trail to Wedding Canyon. This juncture should be within about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead along the bend in the trail. There are several false trails right in this same area that eventually all connect together but look for the one that looks like it hasn't been blocked to discourage travel. The trail to Wedding Canyon is an official primitive trail of the Monument. It is just lacking a sign at present.
Once you find the route to Wedding Canyon the trail leads west up and over a small hill.
The trail descends down a hill that is a bit steeper than anything encountered up to this point to the grassy knolls along the northern edge of the Monument. There is just enough scree on the trail to make you pay attention to your footing but it only lasts for a very short distance.
The trail crosses the grassy area and travels secluded behind several outcrops of sandstone and follows the old buffalo fence for a stretch.
As the trail begins turning southward into Wedding Canyon look for a small cairn that marks the Lizard Canyon route. The trail junction is a little confusing at first but after you travel 10-20 feet the Lizard Canyon trail becomes just as apparent as the Wedding Canyon trail was.
The trail crosses the mouth of Wedding Canyon completely hidden by the rising ridge. There are some good views into Wedding Canyon of the Precambrian rocks that gash their way through it bowels and at times you can see the top of Independence Monument, Sentinel Tower and the Pipe Organ. This is a good area to begin keeping your eye out for bighorn sheep. It's kind of hit or miss whether they are in the area but they can be present most anytime of the year.
The trail makes a fork as it comes around the ridge between Lizard and Wedding canyons. In this instance it is 'all roads lead to Rome' as the route to the left takes you above the cliff while the other takes you around the north side. Both trails come together again in Lizard Canyon. I chose to go one way and come back the other.
Once the trail gets into Lizard Canyon it sprawls out in every direction. There isn't a good trail that goes all the way to the head of the canyon. They all pretty much go a short distance and then stop. This is a good place to turn around or what I chose to do was to stick to the high ground and follow a shallow wash that lead up the east side of the canyon. Near the top I crossed over to the deeper wash that is the main drainage and followed it back out.
As I was nearing the mouth of the canyon I started noticing some very fresh tracks in the sand. It can usually be a lesson in futility following tracks even when they are fresh. Bighorn can go places with ease that are almost impossible for people. With that said, Lizard Canyon is a small place and the tracks were heading into the canyon and none heading out. Knowing that bighorn seek the shade on warmer days, like today, and the sunny spots next to cliffs radiating heat when it is cold, I thought I would follow the tracks a little ways and see what I could find.
I had only gone about 50 feet when I climbed up on a little ridge on the cliff side of the wash. The young ram that had made the tracks stood up from its place in the shade. Since I had already passed by in the gulch below I realized that he had been watching me the whole time. It was probably watching me from the very moment that I entered the canyon. I kept my distance and took lots of pictures while he contented himself with browsing on the bushes and keeping an eye on me.
Since this is Lizard Canyon ...
There are still remnants of the old road that passed this way. If you look in the lower area of Fruita Canyon, below the tunnels, you can see quite a bit more of the road.
Whenever a rabbit decides to sit in the middle of the trail and let you get withing about 20 feet you have to figure that it is posing for you so you will take its picture.
The Lizard Canyon hike is just long enough to feel that you had a little exercise but not at all a grueling experience. The solitude is nice for somewhere so close to town and there is lots of wildlife whether you see it or not. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.